Happy New Year and welcome to the Jewish month of Tishrei! The Jewish new year is a time for rededication and reflection, looking back on what we’ve done right in the past year and what we would like to do better in the year ahead.
Yesterday I was one of over 310,000 people to march across Manhattan the weekend before the UN Climate Summit with the People’s Climate March. Together, we asked our leaders both domestically and internationally to support a strong, global commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the most vulnerable communities worldwide from the devastating effects of climate change. The march included a broad swath of people from environmental, labor, scientific and faith communities. In the hours leading up to the March, Reform Jews stood side by side with Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Unitarians, Southern Baptists, seekers and pagans for an interfaith prayer service. On a stage propped up in front of an inflatable mosque and an interfaith arc, we watched Rabbi Arthur Waskow give a benediction, Josh Nelson and Neshama Carlebach lead a niggun, monks, preachers, imams and priests all provide blessing in their traditions for the march, the UN Summit leaders, and the earth.
In advance of the UN Climate Summit beginning tomorrow, Barbara Weinstein, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Director of the Commission on Social Action, issued the following statement:
“We are pleased to join with others in the environmental, scientific and faith communities in urging our domestic and international leaders this week to make a strong commitment to curbing climate change and its effects. This past weekend, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis were proud to partner with HUC-JIR and Reform congregants and congregations from the greater New York area and beyond to be part of the 300,000-plus who participated in the People’s Climate March to express our shared commitment to achieving a solution to the current climate crisis.
As people of faith, blessed to live in a nation with the resources and ability to be a climate leader, we have a moral obligation to address the devastation of climate change that is already wreaking havoc on the air we breathe, water we drink and earth that sustains us. Yet only with a concerted international commitment to tackling this challenge can we ensure that we pass on a healthy earth as we pass on our sacred traditions l’dor v’dor, from one generation to the next. We must act in particular for the sake of the most vulnerable – the sick, children, the elderly and others living in communities ill-equipped to respond to the increasing instances of flooding, drought, food shortages, and disease associated with climate change.
We look forward to this week’s summit renewing the global commitment to stemming climate change and to meaningful engagement from individuals, corporations, communities, and nations.”
The People’s Climate March on September 21 in New York City is fast approaching. If you can be in New York that weekend you should come and march with Reform Movement congregations! The March is set to be one of the biggest climate rallies ever organized, making September 21 a day for the history books and a definitive step in the right direction for action on the environment. Read more…
by Barbara Lerman-Golomb
Fourteen years ago I was a coordinator for the national Million Mom March for sensible gun legislation. At a Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) conference a few months later in Washington, DC, I addressed the group saying that what we needed was a march to protect the planet.
At the Million Mom March we invited families who had lost a loved one to gun violence up to the stage on the Washington Mall. One by one they shared their stories about a parent, a brother, a child who had been killed. Over time, we’ve come to understand that gun violence is an issue of public health. Similarly, I thought at an eco march, we could have individuals whose lives and health had been impacted by environmental degradation and assaults on their air, land and water, tell their stories—all in an effort to put a face on climate change.
The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have joined as partner organizations marching in the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, September 21. We do so in reflection of the words of Genesis 2:15, which command us to “till and tend” God’s Earth and our Movement’s longstanding work to address the devastating effects of climate change.
As President Obama deliberates over approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, sent the following letter to the White House, urging several key areas for consideration. The full text of that letter is below:
Dear President Obama,
On behalf of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, a joint body of the Union for Reform Judaism whose 900 congregations encompass 1.3 million Reform Jews across North America and its affiliates as well as the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis, I write regarding the Keystone XL pipeline and its long-term effects on the environment.
Jewish laws and values emphasize the importance of protecting Creation and maintaining good stewardship of the Earth. In one of our ancient texts, God implores, “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent. Do not destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody to replace it after you” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah). These words and the spirit of the message they convey continue to guide us today, inspiring our concern for sustainable, renewable energy policies that combat climate change.
We recognize the difficult decision before you concerning the pipeline’s approval, now pending while the case makes its way through the Nebraska courts. More than two years ago, our Commission called for a comprehensive review of the pipeline’s environmental impact. We did so with an interest in ensuring the range of environmental, economic, national security and other factors involved are fully considered. For that reason, we appreciate the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released earlier this year. While we take no position on approval of the pipeline, we do urge you to further consider several issues in greater depth and with the most accurate information available, before reaching a final decision on the pipeline.
- As you know, the Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that the processing and production of the tar sands would result in roughly 17% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. At the same time, other analyses have determined that this calculation alone potentially underestimates the pipeline’s true impact, because the rate of tar sands oil extraction will likely increase. Determining with the greatest possible accuracy the projected impact of the pipeline on GHG emissions is vital to understanding its benefits and costs.
- The Environmental Impact Statement does not provide an analysis of the pipeline’s impact on human health. Yet a 2012 study published by the National Academy of Sciences found high levels of toxic pollutants linked to increased incidences of asthma and cancer among people living in areas near tar sands strip-mining, drilling and processing operations. A full exploration of the pipeline’s impact on human health is essential prior to making a final decision.
- Ensuring our nation’s energy independence is an issue of significance for us, as we know it is for you. While the pipeline may move the nation in that direction, the State Department report indicates that U.S. refineries are a competitive source of refined products to emerging economies in Latin America and Africa. We urge you to consider what more can be done around oil use reduction measures, like your groundbreaking fuel efficiency standards, to increase energy independence and security.
- Finally, we also urge you to consider the impact of possible pipeline spills and leaks and to put in place in advance effective and comprehensive plans to address any such incidents that occur.
We know that you share our concerns about the effect of our energy choices on the environment, national security and the economy. In particular, we appreciate the many steps you have taken to address the impact of climate change, including the “Climate Action Plan” targeting power plants and preparing our nation for the effects of future extreme weather events, and new fuel efficiency standards. As Americans and Reform Jews, we urge that as you move toward a decision, you continue to keep in mind the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline on this and future generations. Just as the book of Deuteronomy tells us that Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden “to till and to tend” it, so must we care for the earth with which we are entrusted by our children and children’s children.
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, Chair
Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
The UN Climate Summit, set to take place in New York City on September 23rd, is meant to catalyze action on climate change and mobilize political will for a strong global climate treaty at the Paris 2015 United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While international negotiations have proven challenging in the past, we need to call on our leaders to take action now.
As people of faith, we are commanded to take care of our earth and its resources. Fourteenth century Jewish scholar, Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet wrote “one is forbidden from gaining a livelihood at the expense of another’s health” (Responsa 196). We understand that as members of the Jewish community, we must live by these wise and ethical words. We must therefore advocate for a binding, global commitment that recognizes that while the poorest communities are most impacted by the consequences of climate change, they often contribute least to the problem.
Dozens of faith denominations are jointly circulating a petition calling for moral action on the issue of climate change. You can add your name to the “Faithful Call to Address Climate Change” and join the faith gatherings and events in New York City, September 20-21st.
“As we approach the UN negotiations for 2015, we prayerfully ask that the US government lead, with a commitment to:
- Legally binding solutions that reduce national greenhouse gas emissions to levels consistent with scientific recommendations that prevent the worst impacts of human induced climate change.
- Provide poor and vulnerable communities here and abroad meaningful support to build low carbon and climate-resilient societies.”